BRITAIN’s government has said professional rugby league is “close to collapsing” in the UK, pledging a £16 million emergency loan for the sport.
The loan was announced in The Times on Thursday night, with Super League issuing an embargoed reaction timed to be made public a minute past midnight.
And it was a statement that laid bare the damage caused to the financially challenged sport by the Covid-19 pandemic and resulting lockdown.
Oliver Dowden, the secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport was quoted as saying: “This is a massive shot in the arm to secure the survival of rugby league.
“We recognise that many RFL clubs operate on very tight financial margins.
“Without their ability to stage matches with spectators and despite the government’s extensive economic package, the professional game has come very close to collapsing.”
Super League chief executive Robert Elstone described the current crisis as “the most challenging time in our 125-year history”.
“The game is grateful that the government has backed up promises it made to the north of the England at the general election,” Elstone said.
It’s not known if the government will intervene in a similar manner for other sports but Dowden indicated rugby league was getting some level of special treatment and is the first to receive this assistance.
“Sports across the board are facing unprecedented pressures and we are supporting them through wider government measures,” he said
“In this case we are intervening as an exception, not to save an individual business or organisation, but to protect an entire sport, the community it supports, the World Cup held here next year and its legacy for generations to come.”
There is intense speculation the Rugby Football League and Super League will again come under one roof as part of belt tightening.
Elstone says in the statement “Super League has had to make many difficult decisions over the past few weeks responding to the outbreak of COVID-19”.
However, it remains a mystery what most of these decisions have been.
The game in England has made little comment about the possibility and timing of a return to matches, although the possibility of playing behind closed doors is understood to be under serious consideration.